When many people hear the words “online gamer,” the image that comes to mind is a socially crippled basement-dweller who is glued to his or her computer and probably hasn’t seen actual sunlight in years. People who believe this is what gamers are like should come to EVE Fanfest—an annual event hosted by EVE Online, the tremendously successful MMO run by CCP Games in Iceland.
This year it was held at Harpa, Reykjavík’s less than one-year-old concert hall and conference centre. Seeing the crowd, you wouldn’t have guessed that it was a gaming convention. There was almost no cosplay and people were very social. By all appearances, this looked more like a gathering of suburban professionals than a group of video game fans.
However, these were definitely video game fans and many of them were waiting anxiously for the release of DUST 514—a free FPS for PlayStation 3 wherein console gamers and PC gamers are able to share the same universe for the first time in gaming history.
Another highlight of any EVE Fanfest is the PvP tournament wherein teams go head-to-head against each other, ascending the ranks to the finals. For the final round, the teams Hydra Reloaded and Wolfsbrigade sat at their respective computers, facing each other, in front of an audience, watching the action unfold on giant screens above the players.
GETTING INTO EVE ONLINE
For those not already familiar: EVE Online is an online, sci-fi roleplaying game. You create characters, build spaceships, and head out into the EVE universe. You are pretty much free to do whatever you want out there—you can safely mine asteroids for a tidy profit, engage in combat with other ships, or just about anything else. Most veterans will advise you to join up with a larger group of players, called a “corp,” as there’s safety in numbers. While there are areas with high security for new players and low security for more adventurous players, you should basically assume that this is a lawless universe where anything can and will happen.
Despite the stereotype of EVE being a slow game, the actual fighting was so fast that it was over before I knew it and Hydra Reloaded, a team from Finland, had won.
In many ways, one of the winning team members from Finland explained to me, EVE PvP is comparable to chess: there are certain strategies and moves that can be used to easily defeat players who aren’t aware of them. “It’s less about how fast your reflexes are and more about strategy.”
MERGING GAMING UNIVERSES
Making my way through the crowd, I bumped into a developer drinking beer with his friends. I mentioned to him that I thought the crowd was pretty massive. “Every year it’s bigger than the year before,” he said. “I don’t think you can really define the demographic. There are people coming in from all over the world. There’s definitely a lot more press, but also a different kind of press, because of DUST 514. Last year it was more MMO press. Now we have that, and the console games press, too.”
As the hype this year was around DUST 514, I asked him how he thought EVE players would take to it. EVE, you see, is a PC game—it can be played on any computer that has the hardware to run it. DUST 514, however, is a console game, made specifically for the PlayStation 3. While traditionally PC gamers and console gamers occupy two separate worlds of gaming, CCP has allowed these two different gamers to share the same space in the EVE universe.
“I think that most EVE players will probably not be playing DUST 514,” he said, “but they’ll probably appreciate it, as it’ll benefit them. It gives them a new opportunity to backstab other players. You can have a player on a PS3 player DUST 514, who laser-targets an area, and then contacts an EVE player to bombard the area. That’s something that’s never been done before, this link between console and PC gamers, in the same gaming universe. That’s what we’ve been seeing with DUST 514—it expands the FPS into something totally new.”
The crowd began to fill up as HAM and GusGus took to the stage. Wandering into the VIP area, I met the guys from Wolfsbrigade and we chatted about EVE.
“There is a steep learning curve,” admitted a team member from New York. “But so long as you get into the right corp, and have the right people around to teach you, you’ll learn quite easily. This isn’t a game where you grind, like in World of Warcraft. You set a skill, and come back a week later, and it’s done. You don’t need to be logged in the whole time. But it takes a long time to be able to go into a low-sec area and get into some real fights. Otherwise you’ll just be mining in high-sec like a lot of these people.”
Before parting ways to go see the bands play he said something that seemed to sum up Fanfest: “once you’re in a nice corp in the EVE community, you almost become a second family. You love meeting the other people in your corps, and even other people you play against. You forget about who’s in what alliance. You just get together, drink, have a good time, and once it’s over, you go back to killing each other.”
Indeed, Fanfest felt more like one giant party than a gaming convention.
What are these guys talking about?
As you may have noticed, a lot of acronyms and game specific terminology get tossed around in this world. Here’s a glossary to help you understand what they’re talking about:
Cosplay: Dressing as a favourite fictional character in public, usually at anime, comics or gaming conventions.
Corp: Refers to corporation, which is the EVE equivalent of a guild—a group of players who stick together and work together on missions.
Dev: Refers to a developer, the person who makes the games work.
FPS: First-person shooter, means that you are a person with a gun running around shooting people.
Grinding: Refers to repeating an action or series of actions multiple times to build up a skill level.
Low-sec/High-sec: Low security and high security, refers to different parts of the gaming universe in EVE. In high security, players are generally safe from unprovoked attacks. This is usually where new players start out. Low security, by contrast, is a survival-of-the-fittest environment.
MMO: Massive Multiplayer Online game, means that many different players log in to the same server to play and interact with each other in real time.
PvP: Player versus player, refers to fights between players, either one-on-one or spaceship fleets in combat.
PvE: Player versus environment, means that players interact with the environment around you, e.g., mining asteroids, rather than other players.